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Minister returns from visit to refugee camp in Calais

‘The good thing about Calais is that I’m not being bombed here’.

The Rev David Downing recalled the words of one refugee after his second visit to a camp in the French town last month.

Mr Downing and his wife Jo, from Marlow, returned from a five-day visit to the camp on Friday, March 2 which they hoped would raise awareness of the plight of the people still there.

In August last year they were part of a delegation of faith leaders from Maidenhead who visited Calais to see the work of charities helping the refugees hoping to enter the UK.

The 46-year-old minister at Maidenhead’s United Reformed Church, West Street, said there were still about 7-800 refugees in the French town despite authorities attempting to shut the camp down in 2016.

“We went over for five days and we did a lot of wood chopping which we didn’t really expect to provide, a couple of days in the kitchen, and then in the warehouse sorting duvets and shoes which are in desperate need.

“One day we did food distribution and served out in the field.

“One thing we did notice - there are refugees sitting in the hedgerows to keep warm with nowhere to live. They are in the woods and forests which means the work is even harder because there is no central point.

“I would like to say there has been good progress but there hasn’t, it’s not going away.

“There are people living in awful conditions,” added Mr Downing.

He said people should think about what they are donating. Items like wedding dresses are unsuitable as they can’t be made into something new. Practical things such as gloves and warm clothes are more useful.

Despite this, morale among refugees and volunteers was high.

Mr Downing added: “The fear they all want to come here just isn’t true. The number in Calais is small compared to Greece and other places. The morale of the volunteers is just amazing, how they keep going I just don’t know compared to the scale of the task and the refugees are very thankful, especially when giving them hot food on a cold day.”

If anyone is interested in volunteering, email refugeevolunteervigit@gmail.com

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